It’s been 30 years since the infamous Herschel Walker trade

AP

In October 1989, the Vikings thought they were a quality running back away from a Super Bowl. So they placed the most all in of all all-in bets, and it helped deliver not one but three Super Bowls.

But not for the Vikings.

Thirty years ago today, Minnesota traded three first-round picks, three second-round picks, and a bunch of other stuff to get running back Herschel Walker.

Three days later, he’d explode for 148 yards on only 18 carries and one lost shoe in his debut, a 26-14 win over the Packers. And then Walker didn’t have another 100-yard game for the Vikings until Week Two of the 1991 season.

He’d stay in Minnesota through 1991, before being released.

By then, the Cowboys had laid the foundation — thanks to all those extra picks — for the team that would make it to the playoffs in 1991 (Minnesota did not), and that would win the Super Bowl to cap the 1992, 1993, and 1995 seasons. I

n the next draft after trading Walker, the Cowboys selected a guy named Emmitt Smith, who’d become the all-time leading rusher before his retirement. Walker is 43rd on the list.

The trade for Walker remains at the top of the list of worst NFL trades ever, and 30 years later it’s a record that may never be broken. Although Washington has tried (RGIII), and surely will try again.

77 responses to “It’s been 30 years since the infamous Herschel Walker trade

  1. It was sort of the catalyst of how to teambuild with the coming of the Cap Era.

    Ironically, Jerry Jones, the ultimate moron, didn’t like how Jimmy Johnson or Bill Belichick now, believes it should be done.

    Certainly, it is an historical trade.

  2. Let us not forget “Ditka’s Folly”, trading the house (all of the Saints picks in the 1999 draft) for the ability to draft Ricky Williams at pick #5.

  3. Walker is 6th all-time rushing if you include his USFL years, which was a really solid league. After the USFL he did 3 1/2 years in Dallas, so he had a lot of wear on his treads before he got to Minnesota. He was hardly a bum or a bust as a pro, he was very good but the Vikings should have known better than to trade that much for a RB whose body had already taken that much punishment.

  4. The Vikings originally traded a 1, 2, and 6 plus 5 players to Dallas. Where JJ really swindled them is by tying conditional draft picks to the deal if Dallas cut the players they received. Dallas cut them all and got two 1s, two 2s, and a 3.

    And never again were high round conditional draft picks tied to roster status.

  5. It’s hard to Imagine trading three first round and three second round picks for any player, let alone a running back.

    Certainly a cautionary tale that set the Vikings franchise back, or prevented them from getting better, in the aftermath of that trade.

    I’m not aware of any team that went all-in in a trade for “the missing piece” actually winning the Super Bowl in the next few years.

  6. Makes giving up a 5th rounder for a two week preseason kicker rental seem positively brilliant by comparison.

  7. This deal, the Walker trade, along with the more recent Cousins deal are two big reasons why I’ve found it curious Vikings fans think they have room to troll anyone else. A secondary curiosity is why Packers fans think it worth their time to troll Vikings fans. Must be something in the gene pool up there.

    I was an avid Packers fan during the Bart Starr era but my, it’s not something one would care to admit in polite company today because most people wouldn’t know the fan base has changed.

  8. Angel Valle says:
    . . . Minnesota is cursed
    ==

    I read that sentiment all the time, but it’s a myth.
    Being cursed is something that happens TO you.
    The Viking DO it to themselves.

  9. This should be a cautionary tale for the Dolphins who think tanking for draft picks means they will become a winning franchise. Cowboys did a phenomenal job of finding good picks in every round during those years.

  10. Although Washington has tried (RGIII) – remind me how those picks turned out for the rams again. sure laid the foundation for the jeff fisher era.

  11. ”And never again were high round conditional draft picks tied to roster status.“

    Thank you for explaining that. I never knew that and I bet most people here didn’t. Well done. Knowing this, you do have to give JJ credit.

  12. It’s not entirely accurate to state that MN traded 3-first rounders, 3-second rounders and a bunch of players for Walker

    They traded FIVE players and 3 draft picks (only 1-first & 1-second)
    Dallas negotiated that those five players have draft picks attached to them if they were cut by a certain date
    Jimmy Johnson flat out LIED to MN GM Mike Lynn, who was dumb enough to believe Jimmy, when the Cowboys claimed they wanted the players

    They didn’t
    They almost immediately began cutting and benching those players, triggering additional draft picks from MN as compensation
    The Emmitt pick was NOT directly from MN
    Dallas used the #21 pick they got from MN, threw in another pick to move up to #17 to take Emmitt
    Did the same thing when drafting Russell Maryland

    Lost in the “Great Train Robbery” is that Dallas gave MN 3 draft picks of its own in addition to Herschel. One of those picks became WR, Jake Reed who had a solid career for MN: 4-time 1,000 receiver, 450 career catches for nearly 7,000 yards

  13. It definitely killed the Vikings chances of winning a Superbowl for about 10 years, no excuse for the 20 years after that, they just weren’t good enough. Or even being close to being good enough considering they went on to lose in 5 more NFC championships.

  14. vikingjack73 says:

    It’s not entirely accurate to state that MN traded 3-first rounders, 3-second rounders and a bunch of players for Walker
    They traded FIVE players and 3 draft picks (only 1-first & 1-second)
    Dallas negotiated that those five players have draft picks attached to them if they were cut by a certain date
    Jimmy Johnson flat out LIED to MN GM Mike Lynn, who was dumb enough to believe Jimmy, when the Cowboys claimed they wanted the players
    They didn’t
    They almost immediately began cutting and benching those players, triggering additional draft picks from MN as compensation
    The Emmitt pick was NOT directly from MN
    Dallas used the #21 pick they got from MN, threw in another pick to move up to #17 to take Emmitt
    Did the same thing when drafting Russell Maryland
    Lost in the “Great Train Robbery” is that Dallas gave MN 3 draft picks of its own in addition to Herschel. One of those picks became WR, Jake Reed who had a solid career for MN: 4-time 1,000 receiver, 450 career catches for nearly 7,000 yards.

    _______________________________

    When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

  15. Hard to believe it’s been 30 years, I remember thinking the Cowboys were nuts for trading Walker.

    SMH.

  16. “Although Washington has tried (RGIII), and surely will try again.”

    Don’t forget about Albert Haynesworth-less. That was a HUGE blunder as in a $100 million dollar blunder, and one could argue that trade was worse than RGIII.

    Washington is competing with the Browns for being known as the most lame(and frustrating for their fans)team in the NFL.

  17. ishudbgm says:
    October 12, 2019 at 6:29 pm
    This should be a cautionary tale for the Dolphins who think tanking for draft picks means they will become a winning franchise. Cowboys did a phenomenal job of finding good picks in every round during those years.

    ==========================
    One BIG reason Dallas did well making good picks is JJ was fresh from the college game and had a network to know the players. Another example of that is Seattle when Pete Carroll was hired: they did well for the first 2 or 3 years in the draft. JJ didn’t survive long enough in Dallas for his college network to dry up but Pete has and they don’t do nearly as well in the draft now as then.

  18. @oldmanpaco

    “The Vikings originally traded a 1, 2, and 6 plus 5 players to Dallas. Where JJ really swindled them is by tying conditional draft picks to the deal if Dallas cut the players they received. Dallas cut them all and got two 1s, two 2s, and a 3.”

    It’s not swindling if the Vikings agreed to the deal. The Vikings had stars in their eyes when it came to acquiring Walker, and the Cowboys astutely got the most out of the transaction with those agreed-upon conditions.

  19. johnnycantread say

    “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.

    “The man who shot Liberty Valance”, right? Boy you don’t get many chances to quote that movie in everyday life. Nice touch!

  20. Don’t blame Herschel Walker. He’s a HOFer, whether he’s actually in the Hall or not. But it was just too much to give away for one guy. The funny thing is, Troy Aikman was already in Dallas, and it was actually Troy that brought those 3 super bowls to Dallas. He didn’t do it single-handedly, no doubt, but without him at QB, there wouldn’t be any rings.

  21. Is there any player today who could commend that much in a trade? Even Tom Brady in his prime probably not.

  22. Vikings GM at the time Sonny Weaver Jr (aka Mike Lynn) then resigned to take over as President of the World League of American Football in 1990. Only to resign again in 1991.

  23. “the Vikings should have known better than to trade that much for a RB whose body had already taken that much punishment.”

    RBs had a much greater value then. Defenders could hit receivers hard and when they were what is now called defenseless. Completions were harder to come by, DBs were allowed much more contact with receivers. Many teams were run first then, as opposed to almost all being pass first now.

    It was a stretch but not nearly what it would be in today’s league

  24. stevenreichert says:
    October 12, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    Is there any player today who could commend that much in a trade?

    ——————-

    Lawrence Taylor or Deion Sanders are probably the two closest players. Even then, you’re probably talking it being a 1st and two 2nd’s too much.

  25. Im not defending the trade but we are missing some perspective here that younger fans might not understand based on todays game. Back then a running back could be the whole focus of the offense and this wasn’t just any running back. Herschel Walker was a legend back then, not just a good “feature back”.

    He also was NOT washed up as this article somewhat implies. It just didn’t work out for the Vikings. Today no running back, even the best will ever be the main weapon of an offense like they used to be back in the day so the trade seems even more outrageous to younger fans.

    The idiotic part of that deal was the Cowboys ability to cut the players they received in exchange for more draft picks. What a joke.

  26. I remember a young Adam Vinateri chasing down Walker on a kick return. He caught Walker from behind. Think it was a Thanksgiving game, but Walker was still with the Cowboys.

  27. I remember the stupid trade the Packers made for John Hadl in the 70’s. That was a terrible run organization for 25 years.

  28. Whats even more ironic is the fact Dallas hasn’t done anything since drafting Emmitt Smith either so there

  29. artvan15 says:
    October 12, 2019 at 8:52 pm
    I remember the stupid trade the Packers made for John Hadl in the 70’s. That was a terrible run organization for 25 years.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Yeah, for 25 long, terrible years the Packers were as miserable as your Vikings have been for their entire existence. Gee, you really got us there.

  30. Everyone hating on my Saints for the Ricky Williams sure forgot that we may have given up two firsts and a few mid and late round picks for him but we sure did get two first round picks back for him. So in essence it cost us a few mid and late round picks to have him for a few years. I’m sure there have been a thousand worse trades than that one in nfl history.

  31. Artvan, you just beat me to it.

    Lifelong Packers fan here and I’d say that the Hadl trade crippled us a whole helluva lot more than the Walker trade hindered the Vikes.

    Thing is, Walker had enough gas in the tank for a couple productive years, Hadl was pretty much “spent”. Pack fans should lay off.

  32. The Cowboys Jimmy Johnson really stuck to the Vikings on that trade, But the Vikings got some back when Jerry Jones passed on drafting Randy Moss. Moss use to kill the Cowboys every time they played each other.

  33. artvan15 says:
    I remember the stupid trade the Packers made for John Hadl in the 70’s. That was a terrible run organization for 25 years…

    And yet the Packers went on to win two Superbowls after that which was two more than the Vikings after their trade, what’s your point?

  34. Norseman says:
    October 12, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    I’m not aware of any team that went all-in in a trade for “the missing piece” actually winning the Super Bowl in the next few years.

    ____________

    Didn’t trade for him, but Reggie White and Brett Favre propelled the Packers from the mediocre team they had been for my parents to the team I’ve seen since I began watching football at 8 (the year they got them…good time to discover football).

  35. Norseman says:
    October 12, 2019 at 5:33 pm
    It’s hard to Imagine trading three first round and three second round picks for any player, let alone a running back.
    ——————————————

    Nowadays, yes, it’s hard to imagine. Back then? Not at all. It was a stupidly steep price to pay, to be sure, but it was an entirely different league back then. HB’s weren’t considered burned out after 4-5 years back then, and HB’s were the driving force of offenses because defenses were allowed to actually play defense against WR’s and allowed to do more than sneer at QB’s without fear of a flag.

    It isn’t like the Matt Stafford’s of the world are better than the Marino’s, Elway’s, or Montana’s. It’s that rules in the 80’s and 90’s were far more in favor of defenses when it came to the pass, and as such it was a far more HB centered league.

  36. stevenreichert says:
    October 12, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    Is there any player today who could commend that much in a trade?

    Maybe Mahomes.

  37. The vikings got a good laugh when they destroyed the Cowboys in the playoffs with Brett favre. One of the most embarrassing beat downs I’ve ever seen.

  38. @oldmanpaco
    “The Vikings originally traded a 1, 2, and 6 plus 5 players to Dallas. Where JJ really swindled them is by tying conditional draft picks to the deal if Dallas cut the players they received. Dallas cut them all and got two 1s, two 2s, and a 3.”
    ————————————————
    I truly believe this trade is what got under Jerry Jones’ skin. The fact that his head coach pulled this off and got all the credit for it. Not the owner.

  39. Tom Dube says:
    October 12, 2019 at 5:20 pm
    Let us not forget “Ditka’s Folly”, trading the house (all of the Saints picks in the 1999 draft) for the ability to draft Ricky Williams at pick #5.

    —————————

    Ricky was all about football.

  40. Another trade that may have been a bigger steal for Dallas was the trade for Hall of Famer pass rusher Charles Haley. Dallas gave up a second round and a third round pick for Haley. Before they got Haley, the Troy Aikman led Cowboys had zero Super Bowl win, but Haley had 2 super Bowl rings playing for Frisco. Dalllas won 3 Super Bowls with Haley but none since then. If the Herschel Walker trade was the worst ever, then the Charles Haley trade can compete as the second worst ever, at least for Frisco.

  41. The John Hadl trade was much worse because the Packers traded almost as much as the Vikings for a guy they should have known was washed up. First, second, and third round picks in the 1975 draft and first and second round picks in the 1976 draft for a 34-year-old quarterback who had been benched three weeks earlier…while playing the Packers! At the time of the trade, Hadl had completed 46% of his passes for 5 TDs and 6 interceptions. In his Packers career, he had 9 TDs and 29 interceptions.

    At least Walker had one good game.

  42. In recent memory the Colts gave up the or first round pick in a trade for Trent Richardson. The Browns used that pick for… Johnny Manziel. Sometimes karma wins in the end.

  43. D1442zzx says:
    October 12, 2019 at 9:26 pm
    The Cowboys Jimmy Johnson really stuck to the Vikings on that trade, But the Vikings got some back when Jerry Jones passed on drafting Randy Moss. Moss use to kill the Cowboys every time they played each other.

    ———-

    So the Vikings won some regular season games and the Cowboys won 3 SBs……

  44. Three pieces came from that trade – Emmit Smith, Darren Woodson, and Kevin Smith. JJ did nothing with the rest of that great haul. In fact, the rest of those drafts were pretty awful for him. Most of the pieces were already on the Cowboys.

    And if it wasn’t for the Steelers, who tradeD down from 17 to 21, the Cowboys might not ever have gotten Smith either.

  45. ” remind me how those picks turned out for the rams again. sure laid the foundation for the jeff fisher era.”

    Better than RG3 turned out for the Deadskins. How’s Tank for Tua going.

  46. At the time of this trade plenty of Vikings fans were scratching their heads. The year before this trade the Vikings went into Dallas and shut Herschel down. Why would they trade for him? Plus in addition to gutting the team, the number of draft picks he cost the Vikings. Ouch. He was a fast straight line running back with limited moves or shake. When he tried it looked like he was running on ice.
    The Vikings owner was a grocer Mike Lynn. That idiot and this move sent the team back 4 years.The Vikings have had 3 terrible owners Max Winters, Mike Lynn & Red McCombs and they made moves that prevented the Vikings from winning games. Mike I wish you didn’t bring up this trade.

  47. SWFLPC.INC says:
    October 13, 2019 at 7:44 am
    D1442zzx says:
    October 12, 2019 at 9:26 pm
    The Cowboys Jimmy Johnson really stuck to the Vikings on that trade, But the Vikings got some back when Jerry Jones passed on drafting Randy Moss. Moss use to kill the Cowboys every time they played each other.

    ———-

    So the Vikings won some regular season games and the Cowboys won 3 SBs……
    —————–

    That right, With Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys they won 3 SB, with Jerry Jones
    Cowboys they did what? 4 playoff games wins in the last 23 years. One guy
    knew what he was doing and the other has been a pretender.

  48. Worse part was not only did the Vikes hurt themselves,
    they screwed the other contenders of that era of Superbowls.

    It was an idiotic move back when it was first announced, and
    the results show it was even worse than than first anticipated.
    It tipped the balance of power heavily towards Dallas, for a decade.

  49. The packers might have had a couple more SB titles in the 90’s without this trade. Early 90’s they couldn’t beat Dallas.

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